Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Police Fit Up Is Unravelling

There is still more to come in the so-called 'plebgate' saga, but the scandalous tale of a senior cabinet minister being fitted up for political reasons by select members of the police force is certainly unravelling.  The Police Federation behaved disreputably at the time, as I noted here, and today the deputy chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission has more or less confirmed that in her view the Federation behaved dishonestly in its media accounts of the meeting it held with Andrew Mitchell, the then chief whip who was under fire.

The Police Federation looked like a hostile and malevolent organisation at the time.  What is perhaps more concerning is that members of the Downing Street team - charged with the protection of ministers and other VIPs - also appears to have contained the canker of dishonest and deliberately malicious behaviour within its ranks.  There is some way to go yet before the Met police finally fesses up and works out where to go from here, but it is certainly not in a very happy place at the moment.  As for Mr. Mitchell, he must be wondering whether it is ever likely to be worthwhile heading back into high office.  The police had probably better hope he isn't destined for a Home Office job in the future.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Adam Afriyie's Early Hubris

Adam Afriyie's leadership bid is still only in embryonic form - there is noticeably no vacancy at the moment, nor much of a call for one - but even so it looks as if it's crashing fast.  Mr. Afriyie has not discouraged people from referring to him as a "Tory Obama" but doesn't seem to share the US President's political acumen.  He doesn't actually seem to share anyone's political acumen to be honest.  I never thought a Eurosceptic proposal could be greeted with contempt and hilarity within the Tory party, but such is Mr. Afriyie's standing amongst his parliamentary colleagues that that is exactly what has happened with his like-to-be-stillborn amendment to the euro referendum Bill.  Most of the 2010 Tory intake have signed a letter urging him to drop his amendment, which demands a referendum next year, according to a report from James Forsyth in the Spectator.  Forsyth also tantalisingly claims that if Afriyie doesn't drop his amendment then another letter may be released.  By implication, this one could be rather less polite.

Mr. Afriyie's self-delusion was clear for all to hear in his Today programme interview earlier this week.  He declared that promoting a eurosceptic amendment was never going to make him popular in the Tory party (er, he has met members of this party, right? And he seriously thinks it's not eurosceptic inclined?).  Even more hilariously, the man who has set up a putative leadership team claimed that he really didn't like stirring things up.  Quite.  A really reluctant controversialist, Mr. Afriyie.

Adam Afriyie may not have won quite the levels of acclaim he was hoping for.  After all, the Telegraph's Damian Thompson has rather cuttingly referred to the would-be leader as a "wally" in what one suspects is a level of carefully chosen wording that many Tory MPs would be happy to echo.  But he has achieved the near impossible feat of bringing the eurosceptics firmly in line behind the Prime Minister.  I'm beginning to wonder whether he hasn't been a secret No. 10 plant all along.

Oh, and a slightly more objective view of Mr. Afriyie is here in the Economist.  They're such fair minded people.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Fourth Estate Is Too Powerful To Be Left Alone

A Privy Council Committee has rejected the newspapers' own ideas for the regulation of their industry and as such the ball is back in the politicians' court.

It seems utterly contrary to all principles of a free society to have politicians discussing - and preparing to legislate on - the freedom of the press at all, but in the UK in the early 21st century the sad fact is that our Fourth Estate is out of control.  Subject to no authority but its own and wielding immense power over public and politicians alike, the print media continues to dole out its own brand of harassment, influence peddling and political self-righteousness to often terrible effect.  This was seen in its most vigorous form again in the Daily Mail's now infamous article and headline about Ed Miliband's father.  When they printed Mr. Miliband's response to the attacks on his dead father, they ensured that his article was surrounded by further antagonistic reporting and editorialising.  This was hardly a brave lament for liberty.

The Spectator's Fraser Nelson blogs again today about why statutory press regulation should not even be considered.  An eloquent writer, he raises up the historical nature of the fight for liberty and looks abroad to the example such legislation might give to countries less enamoured of freedom and democracy than Britain.  These are powerful arguments, and the real tragedy is that they have been so utterly traduced by the behaviour of the press in Britain itself.  If we are to look anywhere for the betrayal of the principles of crusading journalism and fights for liberty, it is, alas, to the bulk of the print media itself.  There would be no debate at all on this issue if newspapers hadn't been revealed to have used criminal methods to obtain stories, or if there hadn't been a host of victims, such as the McCann family or Chris Jeffries, who came forward with their own distressing tales of how the press had cynically used their power to abuse them.  The press no longer preserves the freedom of innocent individuals in Britain, it too often inhibits it.

I blogged in March about why we should no longer take the press at their own valuation, and I have seen nothing since then to invalidate that view.  And it is a tragedy.  There is nothing better than a free, campaigning press holding those in power to account and throwing the light of journalism into the murky areas of our national life.  We just don't have that any more.  Sadly, the power that needs to be held to account is wrapped up in the very newspapers who should once have been challenging it.

Anything Interesting About the Reshuffles?

Apart from the people directly involved, no-one's lives are going to change as a result of the three party reshuffles held in Westminster yesterday.  We don't look at them for seismic political shifts, but see them more as cautious statements of political intent.  Thus, Ed Miliband appears to have very slightly shifted his party towards a more left-wing position and ditched a few Blairites; David Cameron has marginally increased the female profile of his party's governing ministers and shifted a little into the centre ground; and Nick Clegg has thrown a bomb into the Home Office as well as sacked a perfectly inoffensive Cabinet minister.

The most interesting move has been that of Lib Dem Norman Baker to the Home Office, as effectively the Lib Dem deputy to Theresa May.  Baker has famously cast aspersions on the suicide of scientist David Kelly (part of the collateral damage of the infamous Iraq war dossier and the Campbell/Blair feud with the BBC), suggesting he was murdered by secret service agents.  Well, now Baker could be responsible for those self same sinister services.  Apparently Theresa May - who wasn't consulted - is furious, but the rest of us should be delighted.  A genuine, campaigning anti-establishment figure is just what is needed at that emporium of state manufactured security.  Let's see how long he lasts.

Baker is a maverick in government.  Nadine Dorries is a maverick unlikely to ever be in government.  Adding greatly to the colour of the nation's political life, Dorries is standing for Deputy Speaker (to replace Nigel Evans who has resigned over sex assault charges that are about to enter the court arena).  She began a charm offensive yesterday with a nice little email to all Tory MPs.  Her charm has lasted all of 12 hours, as she launched an attack today on promoted Tory Kris Hopkins. Clearly pulling her punches, she described her Tory colleague as one of parliament's "slimiest, nastiest MPs".  That's another vote for Deputy Speaker just chalked up then!

Amongst the Cameron female promotees is Nicky Morgan who takes the post of Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and must be hoping that she doesn't suffer the same fate as the last woman to hold that position, Chloe Smith, who was effectively Paxmanated on Newsnight. If you enjoy car crash voyeurism, that interview's below.  Meanwhile, really good news for the TRG wing - or left - of the party is the promotion of forthright One Nation Tory Jane Ellison to government.



Thursday, October 03, 2013

The Daily Mail's Torrid Little War

The Daily Mail has certainly gone into overdrive in its battle against the Miliband family, with its sister paper, the Mail on Sunday, sending journalists under cover to a memorial service for Ed Miliband's uncle.

It isn't worth recounting the full saga in this post, although the Media Blog has a pretty comprehensive analysis, complete with the reminder of the Mail's own rather disreputable past as a Nazi supporting paper in the 1930s (with the present owner's great grandfather writing eloquently in defence of the blackshirts).  Nick Clegg, too, had a good line when he commented that "if anyone excels in denigrating and often vilifying a lot about modern Britain, it's the Daily Mail".

It is no secret that the Mail, in common with most other newspapers in Britain, is vigorously opposed to any regulation of it by a statutory body.  The way it's handled the Miliband affair has probably made the case for such a body stronger than ever.  The Mail is a powerful and wholly unaccountable force.  Stanley Baldwin, infuriated by the newspaper proprietors' abuse of their power during his premiership, described them as having "power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages".  The only change since then has been that harlots have probably adopted greater levels of responsibility to their clients.

Politics Reading

I've updated the reading list to include Damian McBride's memoirs and Matthew D'Ancona's new book on the Coalition, "In It Together", so for those wanting to check out a small selection of good, general reader friendly British politics books, here is the current list for AS level students (together with a few suggested websites and blogs, but the sidebar on this site is more comprehensive.)

There's a good review of the D'Ancona book by Gaby Hinsliff in the Guardian here. She admires D'Ancona's insights, but notes the rather partial nature of his tale.